Manchester United were flying with an 11-match unbeaten streak – their joint-best since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined – before tragedy struck. After a surreal closed-doors game against LASK, football across Europe suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Just when it looked like the Red Devils had started to hit their best stride, they now have to wait before the campaign restarts. Of course, for sides going through a bad run of form, this period could be rewarding. But United have to go back to square one to regain their swagger once games do resume.
Can the break ruin their momentum?
This is probably on every United fan’s mind at the moment. Considering that the players aren’t training either because of the restrictions, they aren’t being able to build on their chemistry either. Solskjaer’s side ended up crumbling to bits after a similar unbeaten streak last season.
Indeed, after that wondrous night in Paris, everything broke down. As they’re still in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League– which could be their only path to a Champions League if Manchester City can win their case at the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) – they need to go all guns blazing into this final stretch of the campaign. But now with this little break, that special spark will now fade away. It’ll be upon Solskjaer to build everything from scratch and create that dominant vibe about his team once again.
But it’ll be extremely difficult to recreate that intuitive connection the players had started to develop. The reason why teams maintain long unbeaten streaks is because they’re always playing together at a stretch. If that flow is disrupted, things can crumble apart quickly.
See Liverpool, for example. They were soaring before the winter break and looked favourites for the Champions League. But after some complacency set into the side during that period, they lost all their momentum and ended up losing games they normally wouldn’t.
Just like Liverpool, if they’re not careful enough, United’s form could also fall apart. If they’re not proactive enough to retain their confidence through this period, not only can they be eliminated from the Europa League or FA Cup, but their top-four dreams could go up in smoke as well.
How can they avoid a breakdown?
While Solskjaer has to keep the players mentally strong to survive the storm ahead, it’s upon those taking the field to ensure they maintain peak fitness during this break. While United did hold a few training sessions after that LASK game, the players have now been given personal assignments to work on during their self-isolation period.
They need to train on their own, putting in work in the personal gyms and ensuring to improve their skills at home. Diogo Dalot and Bruno Fernandes have been spending this time improving their chemistry. The remaining others also must not slack off and keep practising on their own to maintain top shape
This could be an especially rewarding period for the likes of Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira or Odion Ighalo who are looking to break into the first XI. If they can return to training(whenever it resumes) in top shape and outperform their team-mates, OGS could be tempted to start them more often.
This break will be a test of character for this United squad on whether they thrive or crumble under adversity. A long as the players work hard on analysing their areas of improvement, and fill the holes in their game, they should be a refreshed unit for whenever the competitions resume.
The little positives from the break
While it’s a bummer for the in-form United players not being able to maintain their surging run of form, this break could be rewarding for the injured ones. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, in particular, can benefit from it the most.
The Frenchman, especially, is very close to returning. As long as he works on gaining 100% fitness levels and get himself ready to impress OGS, he could walk straight back into the team and add that extra creative punch after the break. Rashford was tipped to return towards the end of the campaign(which was initially May). So perhaps he can play a larger role in finishing the Red Devils’ campaign on a banger.
With the Englishman being United’s most prolific striker in the Premier League, they’d love to have him adding that extra bit of firepower to amplify their final charge into ending the campaign with a trophy and Champions League qualification.